Congressman McGovern Delivers Keynote Remarks to Food is Medicine Coalition National Symposium

On Wednesday, September 26, 2018, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) delivered the following remarks to the Food is Medicine Coalition at their National Symposium in Washington, DC:


Thank you, David, for that kind introduction. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness firsthand the incredible impact your organization has on families across my home state of Massachusetts.

I’ve told David this before, but a few years ago I delivered Community Serving’s 100,000th meal with him to a woman in Worcester. I remember it well because she looked at me and said “I haven’t seen you in a very long time. You look old!”

But I was very glad to see that she had access to a good, wonderful, nutritious meal — which she said, kept her out of the hospital.

I’d also like to acknowledge “God’s Love We Deliver” for bringing us together today and for their incredible work they do in New York City.

Last year they crossed a huge milestone: 20 million meals since 1985 delivered to those who are in need. We grateful to them and all their volunteers who work so hard to bring nourishment and love to people throughout New York. It really is an inspiration to be associated with them.

Lastly, I’d like to thank the coalition for all that you do. We appreciate very much your dedication to this effort.

I’m going to talk about three things today: first, the importance and policy implications of food as medicine.

Second, what I’m working on right now in Congress to turn some of the work we’re doing here into a bold policy reform package that saves money but also improves outcomes across our country.

Last, I’m just going to finish up with a few general words about hunger in America and the future of our movement.

When I grew up, my grandmother always used to say to me“an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” And it always used to annoy me. I wish she were still alive so I could tell — “You were right!”

Let’s look at the facts:

An estimated one in eight Americans ― over 40 million altogether― are food insecure. This means that not only may they be experiencing hunger, but that the kinds of food they eat are probably not nutritious enough to sustain a healthy, active lifestyle.

At the same time, rates of chronic disease caused by poor nutrition are rising, and the more food insecure you are, the more likely you are to have chronic diseases like hypertension, coronary heart disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, I could go on and on…

There’s no longer any doubt. Food is medicine. The research is clear. The science is clear. You have made it crystal clear to everybody that the evidence is there.

1 in 3 patients that enter into the hospital are malnourished. Those patients have hospital stays that are 3 times longer, and their inpatient cost are 3 times higher.

So I always tell people, if you’re not interested in improving people’s quality of life, and all you care about is the bottom line — you ought to get involved with this movement, too!

You know, Community Servings in Boston, did an analysis with Massachusetts General Hospital and found a 16% net healthcare cost savings with medically tailored meals. That’s significant!

So the states are starting to take notice. Earlier this year, California launched a 12-week pilot to deliver medically tailored meals, as well as home visits from a registered dietitian, to 1,000 people with congestive heart failure — a group that has one of the highest rates of hospital re-admissions within 30 days.

Unfortunately, when I bring up this topic up with my colleagues in Congress, they look at my like I’m crazy. Too many of them just don’t know what we know. And that’s still a problem. Although thanks to your lobbying on the hill, more and more people don’t have an excuse not to know!

That’s why earlier this year, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine — a fellow Democrat — and I joined together with Republicans Roger Marshall and Lynn Jenkins of Kansas to launch the bipartisan Food is Medicine Working Group within the House Hunger Caucus.

We can no longer look at hunger and healthcare as separate issues. They’re two sides of the same coin. When families don’t have access to nutritious food, their health suffers. It’s as simple as that.

Our goal is to look into concrete steps that we can make to bring the programs and ideas that you have all suggested over the years to the next level. We want to bring them into law.

We’ve been using the working group to hold briefings here on Capitol Hill to educate our colleagues and staff, and to collect information. And we’ve had a good turnout — not just staff, but Members of Congress who are interested.

And the exciting thing is, I think the time is right to introduce a major bill to get the ball rolling on bold policy reforms.

Working together with the Coalition and the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, our friends at the Friedman School at Tufts, we’re pulling together creative and innovative solutions that could make a real difference on the federal and state level.

Healthcare costs are on the rise. The vast majority of healthcare dollars go to those with chronic diseases. Not only is this the right thing to do, as I said before, it’s the smart thing to do.

We can help Medicaid save money by getting better outcomes and higher patient satisfaction. It’s a win-win.

We’re thinking about how we can protect and increase Ryan White funding and looking at other possible funding mechanisms for those suffering with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.

We’re thinking about ways to get Medicaid to think holistically about patients and incorporate medically tailored meals into their programs.

We’re looking into the role federal research dollars can plan in helping to fill the gaps in our knowledge on Medically Tailored Meals to make them even more effective and even more useful.

And this week, the House is set to consider and pass legislation funding the Department of Health and Human Services that contains language sponsored by the Food is Medicine Working Group to encourage Institutes and Centers within the Department of Health and Human Services to report on the research that has been conducted on Food is Medicine related topics, including medically-tailored meals.

The package already passed the Senate last week, and is expected to pass the House in a few hours! If it is signed into law by the President, the President said he would, we expect a report compiling this research in the coming months.

Now, Most of you are familiar with the Farm Bill, which sets America’s food and agricultural policy every 5 years. I’m a conferee on the committee trying to negotiate the final version between the House and Senate. As David mentioned I’m the ranking Democrat on the Nutrition Subcommittee. The good news is, the Senate version of the bill included a pilot program on medically tailored meals which I strongly support. And the Senate bill doesn’t decimate our nutrition programs that help feel food insecure people, like SNAP. The House bill is a disaster. The Senate bill passed with 86 votes — you can’t get 86 Senators to agree on what to have for lunch! but we’re going to get the best farm bill that we can and make a bigger dent in hunger and food insecurity.

You know, I first got involved in the issue of hunger when I was a college intern for Senator George McGovern in Washington while I attended American University here in Washington, D.C.

People always tell me — people always say to me, because they think that George McGovern is my father, but we’re actually not related — they tell me they’re a big supporter of my dad. They’re always a little shocked when I say thank you, my dad owns a liquor store in Worcester, Massachusetts!

I was inspired by him not because he simply understood hunger, and he was taking on a big challenge in this country, but because he tried to fix it. Working together in a bipartisan way with Bob Dole, a Republican from Kansas, and they strengthened the Food Stamp Program, the strengthened WIC, they strengthened the school feeding program, and other programs.

Believe it or not, in the 1970s we almost eliminated hunger in America. Then in the 1980s we started to cut holes in the social safety net. People started to fall through the cracks — and things have only gotten worse since then.

I tell this story to illustrate the fact that hunger and food insecurity are not inevitable. I tell people all that time that hunger is a political condition. We have the money. We have the knowledge and the research — you have all provided it! We have the infrastructure. What we lack is the political will.

But I think if we get this right, we’ll solve not only this problem, but a lot of other problems, as well.

But that fact is that bipartisanship on these issues is possible.

It’s happened in the past and I believe it can happen again. I think we can come together and work in a bipartisan way to make food as medicine a reality. We can come together to end hunger in our country.

So — I look forward to working with all of you to turn our plans into action and our actions into results.

I can’t thank you enough for all the information you have provided our office over the years and for your advocacy on these issues. I’m hopeful that we’re going to take all this to the next level. Thanks for having me here today.